Chicago Public Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard voiced support Monday for public dollars “following” students to private schools.
Speaking on a panel at a gathering for the Economic Club of Chicago, Brizard said he supported public dollars being invested in scholarships for students at private and parochial schools. Brizard spoke on the panel with Michael Milkie, CEO of the Noble Network of Charter Schools, and Sister Mary Paul McCaughey, superintendent of the Archdiocese of Chicago Catholic Schools.
“It doesn’t make sense (that) our parents pay taxes and then pay tuition (for their children) to go to (private) school as well,” Brizard said.
When moderator Tim Knowles, director of the University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute, expressed surprise that an urban educator would be willing to forgo public dollars, Brizard affirmed his support of the idea.
“It’s a matter of making sure the dollars follow children,” he said. “If 500 traditional CPS (students) would go to the parochial schools ... the proportional share (of dollars) should go to the school actually educating those children.”
When CPS was asked for clarification on his remarks, Marielle Sainvilus, a CPS spokeswoman, said Brizard was giving his personal opinion on education funding and was not recommending that the state adopt school vouchers. Under that controversial program, the government issues a voucher that parents can apply toward tuition at a private school rather than giving it to the public school where their child is assigned. She said Brizard does not believe vouchers do enough to address education funding gaps.
During the discussion, Brizard also called for developing charter schools in partnership with the archdiocese.
McCaughey said former Chicago schools chiefs had voiced support for federal dollars going to private schools and called for a charter contract with the archdiocese, but neither idea has ever been realized.
During the discussion, Brizard also spoke out against what he called “the vocal minority” who opposed the district’s plans to close or completely restaff 17 failing schools last month. He vowed to start earlier next year and do more to enlist the “silent majority” in supporting school closings and turnaround efforts.
Brizard requested more public support for reform efforts that he said need to last “the long haul.” He urged the audience to speak to state elected officials, specifically about new legislation signed last summer that makes it harder for teachers to strike and ensures the district can implement a longer day without support from the Chicago Teachers Union.
The Senate bill “was an amazing piece of legislation last year,” Brizard said. “We don’t want to undermine that, and there are many who are actively trying to undermine that amazing piece of legislation.”
With an audience of mostly business executives, Milkie and Knowles, who oversees charter schools run by the University of Chicago, also took jabs at the teachers union.
“How do we ensure charter schools don’t become a version of what we have today, with incredibly thick teacher contracts governing every move we make as a profession?” Knowles asked.
Milkie answered that charter laws limit the power of teachers unions within charter schools and advocated for smaller unions across the district to represent different factions of the teaching force.
“Where you run into trouble is when one union has so much political power, especially when you’re talking about a public employees union,” Milkie said. “When they’re so, so big, they have a disproportionate amount of influence in places like Springfield. If they have smaller ones, still representing teachers, I think that’s going to work much better for students.”